UN expert urges Sri Lanka to better protect civilians displaced by conflict

23 December 2008
Walter Kaelin, the Secretary-General’s Representative for the Human Rights of IDPs

An independent United Nations human rights expert has called on Sri Lanka to significantly improve access for more humanitarian relief and personnel to reach hundreds of thousands of people displaced in the northern Vanni region by the ongoing conflict between the Government and Tamil separatists.

In a letter to the Government, Walter Kälin, the Secretary-General’s Representative for the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), acknowledged Sri Lanka’s continuing efforts to enable humanitarian convoys to reach the estimated 200,000-300,000 IDPs in the region.

However, he stressed that “current supplies of food, medicine, emergency shelter and sanitation materials are inadequate to meet the severe and increasing needs of the displaced,” according to a news release issued today in Geneva.

Therefore, he called on the Government to “significantly” improve access for more humanitarian relief and humanitarian personnel to reach all civilians in need.

Intensified clashes in recent months between Government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) separatist group had forced tens of thousands of civilians to flee their homes and sparked warnings from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and other UN officials about the humanitarian impact on the people of Sri Lanka.

Mr. Kälin also highlighted the need for screening of armed elements from the civilian population among those who have crossed from the Vanni into cleared areas and are now being held in camps at Kalimoddai and Sirukandal, noting that “IDPs, who are civilians and who retain their right to freedom of movement, must not be detained in camps.”

In addition, he voiced concern by reports that the LTTE is restricting IDPs’ freedom of movement and ability to seek safety in another part of the country.

“Only the most limited and narrow exception would be allowed for a temporary relocation or restriction of civilians, and only then for imperative military reasons or when safety of the civilians so requires,” the news release stated.

The Representative urged the parties to the conflict to agree on a mechanism that will allow safe and adequate access for humanitarian personnel and aid to all civilians in need in the Vanni, and stressed their obligation to “scrupulously” respect international humanitarian law.


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